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UNWTO: Extraordinary pace of tourism growth in EU

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World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) released the European Union Short-Term Tourism Trends for the first half of 2017. The preliminary data for international tourist arrivals to the European Union (EU-28) shows extraordinary tourism growth.

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According to data available through June 2017, 14 out of the 28 countries of the European Union have recorded double-digit growth in arrivals. It is estimated that, overall, EU-28 destinations received 231 million international tourist arrivals between January and June 2017, 17 million more than the 214 million in the same period of 2016. This corresponds to a remarkable 8% increase compared to the same period last year, making the current January-June period the strongest half-year since 2010. Results are underpinned by robust growth in many destinations and a recovery in those that suffered declines in previous years.

Growth in international tourism receipts reported by the top 5 EU-28 destinations was fairly strong. Spain recorded the highest growth (+12%), followed by the United Kingdom (+11%) and France (+8%). Germany (+4%) and Italy (+3%) also reported good results.

Growth in international tourism expenditure was also robust in the 4 top EU-28 source markets. Germany (the world’s third largest market) recorded a 3% increase through June. The United Kingdom (+8%) France grew 11% in the first half of 2017, while Italy recorded 5% growth.

Southern and Mediterranean Europe leads growth with 12% more arrivals

International arrivals to Europe, the world’s most visited region, grew 8% during the first six months of 2017, an extraordinary pace of growth considering the maturity of most destinations and the large base volume. This growth follows a modest 2% increase in 2016 and reflects a clear rebound in destinations that suffered decreases in previous years, such as Turkey, France and Belgium, combined with a particularly strong performance of destinations in Southern and Mediterranean Europe (+12%). Northern Europe (+8%) and Western Europe (+6%) also recorded solid results, while Central and Eastern Europe (+3%) was more mixed.

Extraordinary pace of growth in EU-28

Out of the 28 countries of the European Union, 14 have recorded double-digit growth in arrivals during the first half of 2017, leading to an overall robust 8% increase (+5% in 2016). Demand has been largely driven by intra-regional source markets , which are benefiting from the ongoing recovery of EU-28’s economy. It is estimated that the upward trend of GDP growth that begun in 2013 is consolidating. Seasonally adjusted GDP rose by 2.1% in the EU-28 in the first quarter of 2017, after a 2% growth in the previous quarter.2 Also, the ongoing recovery of the Russian Federation has enhanced intra-regional travel. Long-haul source markets, particularly the United States and China, have also contributed to the robust results. According to reported data, EU-28 countries welcomed 231 million international tourist arrivals (overnight visitors) in the first half of the year, 17 million more than in the same period of 2016.

  • The eight European Union destinations in Southern and Mediterranean Europe led growth with an 11% increase in arrivals over the same period in 2016, supported by solid performance in most destinations. Portugal (+13%) and the subregion’s top destination Spain (+11%) continue to boast double-digit growth after similar results in 2016, fuelled by particularly strong long-haul source markets. The recent terrorist attack in Barcelona is not yet reflected in the data, but is expected to have a short-lived and localised impact over tourist arrivals to Spain. Italy, the subregion’s second largest destination, and Greece both reported 7% growth in arrivals this period. Balkan destinations Croatia (+25%) and Slovenia (+19%) also reported double digit growth, as did island destinations Malta (+19%) and Cyprus (+15%).
  • International arrivals to the five EU-28 destinations in Northern Europe grew by a robust 8% increase. Arrivals to Finland (+15%) showed double-digit growth, encouraged by an upsurge in long-haul travel, especially from China. The United Kingdom has reported a 9% increase, helped by the weaker British pound, and despite terrorist attacks in London and Manchester. Arrivals to Sweden (+8%) remain solid and show resilience after April’s terror attack in Stockholm. Denmark (+7%) also recorded robust results. Ireland (+3%) reported more modest results.
  • The nine European Union destinations in Central and Eastern Europe recorded a 6% growth in arrivals through June. The Czech Republic and Latvia (both +13%), Romania (+12%) and Bulgaria (+10%) led growth within the group, followed by Slovakia (+9%), Lithuania (+6%), Poland and Estonia (both +5%). These results were offset by a decrease in arrivals to Hungary (-2%).
  • Arrivals to the group of six European Union destinations in Western Europe (+6%) have rebounded in the first half of 2017 following last year’s flat results (0%). Growth has been driven by the recovery of the world’s top destination France as well as Belgium (both +10%) from last year’s drop in arrivals in the aftermath of several terrorist attacks. The Netherlands also reported a robust 10% growth following sound results in 2016, while arrivals in both Germany and Austria grew by 5%.

Extra-EU destinations report solid growth in arrivals after last year’s decline

International arrivals to the 26 destinations outside the European Union (ExtraEU) grew 6% in the first months of 2017 after last year’s 8% decline, with most destinations reporting robust results. Growth has been fuelled by the recovery of Turkey (+24%) following last year’s decline.

  • Growth in this group was led by the nine Extra-EU destinations in Southern and Mediterranean Europe. International tourist arrivals grew by an extraordinary 15% in the first half of 2017, following a 20% decrease in 2016. Growth has been fuelled by the rebound of this group’s largest destination Turkey (+24%) after a steep 29% decline in arrivals in 2016, thanks to increased security after last year’s recurrent terrorist attacks and an upsurge in demand from the Russian Federation. Israel also reported 24% more arrivals after a more modest increase in 2016. Balkan destinations Montenegro (+20%), Serbia (+19%), Bosnia & Herzegovina (+16%) and FYR Macedonia (+13%) all reported double-digit growth.
  • The five Extra-EU destinations in Northern and Western Europe have reported a robust 6% growth in arrivals. Switzerland (+7%), the largest destination in this group has reported sound results following last year’s robust growth in arrivals. Smaller destination Iceland (+22%) continues to benefit from the ongoing capacity and promotion efforts and looks forward to its eighth year of double-digit growth. Meanwhile, arrivals to Norway (+1%) have grown at a modest rate but managed to recover from a slight decline during the first quarter of 2017.
  • Arrivals to the 12 Extra-EU destinations in Central and Eastern Europe declined 1% during the first months of 2017. Double-digit growth in several countries, such as Armenia (+24%), Kazakhstan (+21%), Moldova (+18%) and Georgia (+17%) was offset by an 8% decrease in arrivals to the Russian Federation (-9% in 2016), the subregion’s largest destination. Ukraine has not reported results yet.

Tourism earnings followed the upward trend in arrivals through June 2017

Preliminary data on international tourism receipts have been reported by 127 countries and territories so far, of which 54 for the first six months of 2017. Of the reporting destinations, a total of 101 (or 80%) posted growth in earnings compared to the same period last year (in local currencies at current prices), of which 47 (37%) in double digits, while 26 (20%) reported declines. This indicates that earnings mostly followed the upward trend seen in arrivals. The median increase on international tourism receipts was 7%.

Results reported by the top 10 tourism earners of international tourism receipts were fairly strong. Among them, 5 destinations belong to the EU-28: Spain recorded the highest growth (+12%), following 7% growth in the full year 2016. The United Kingdom reported 11% growth in receipts through March. France also posted an increase of 8%, rebounding from last year’s decline in receipts. Germany reported 4% growth in tourism earnings, while Italy posted 3% growth.

Of the remaining five destinations in the top 10, four reported growth in tourism receipts and one a decline. Australia posted a 10% increase. Thailand recorded 8% growth, after an increase of 15% in 2016. The United States and Germany both reported 4% growth in tourism earnings, while China recorded an increase of 2% in the first quarter. Meanwhile, Hong Kong (China) reported a small 1% decline in the first half of the year. Beyond the top 10, a number of EU-28 destinations also performed strongly in the first three to six months of 2017. Portugal reported 21% growth through June, following solid results in 2016. Poland also reported strong results through March (+12%). Other top performers this period were Sweden (+9%), the Czech Republic (+8%) and Greece (+7%)

Robust growth in tourism spending in the first half of 2017

Preliminary data on international tourism expenditure for the first part of 2017 reflect an increasing demand from major source markets, consistent with growth in international arrivals. So far, 46 out of the top 50 outbound markets have reported preliminary data on international tourism expenditure for the first three to six months of 2017. Out of the countries with data, 36 (78%) reported an increase in spending (in local currencies), 12 of which in double digits (26%), while 10 (22%) saw declines. The median increase was 6%. These results have been triggered by the continuing strong performance of many major source markets worldwide, as well as by the recovery of important source markets such as Brazil (+35%) and the Russian Federation (+26%).

In terms of international tourism expenditure, 4 of the world’s top 10 source markets belong to the EU-28. Germany (the world’s third largest market) recorded a 3% increase through June. The United Kingdom reported 8% growth in spending in the first quarter of the year, despite the weaker British pound. Tourism spending from France grew 11% in the first half of 2017, while Italy recorded 5% growth.

The remaining six destinations in the top 10 also reported growth in tourism spending. China, the world’s top source market, reported 9% growth in expenditure in the first quarter of 2017, reflecting an increasing demand for international travel. The United States (the world’s 2nd largest market) recorded a 6% increase through June. The Republic of Korea posted 16% growth through June. Canada reported a 7% increase in tourism spending, rebounding after flat growth in 2016. Hong Kong (China) recorded 5% growth. By contrast, Australia saw a modest 1% increase in expenditure.

Beyond the top 10, a number of EU-28 source markets showed strong growth in spending this first half of 2017. Spain (+17%), Portugal (+13%) and Ireland (+11%) all reported double-digit growth in international tourism spending. The Czech Republic (+8%) and Austria (+7%) also reported strong results.

Other markets outside the EU-28 that showed robust demand for outbound travel this period were Ukraine (+9%), Thailand (+8%), as well as Taiwan (pr. of China) (+7%). Also, growth in spending rebounded remarkably after some years of declines in Brazil (+35%) and the Russian Federation (+26%). The recovery of the Russian Federation is expected to have fuelled growth in arrivals to its main destinations markets, such as Turkey and Egypt.

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